Notes, birds, nature, meanderings.

Musings about birds, nature, and our meanderings on the Central Oregon Coast

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Birding 101 to 201 - Growing Pains

Two summers ago, my brother, a serious birder and outstanding nature photographer, visited from Tennessee and rekindled my interest in birds.

I've loved birds forever, since I was a kid and we carried a Golden bird book on every hiking and camping trip.

When I had my own home in the Willamette Valley, I had feeders and birdhouses and kept notes about who visited, and when - here's a 2001 list I put in eBird (x's are used where I didn't indicate a count).  I learned to recognize all of the frequent visitors, and bought more and more bird books to help me identify new arrivals and the occasional passer-by. 

Then life happened - I got a new job, remarried, moved to a different home...  Still loved birds and kept a few feeders, but not the lists and the notes.  It wasn't the same.

Anna's Hummingbird, 2007 Backyard

Then, four years ago, we found this wonderful home on the Oregon coast -- the only drawback, I thought, was the birds.  After all, the only birds on the coast are seagulls (as I told my husband).  A year later, not only did I know better, but my brother was in town and out looking at every different one he could see.

Yaquina Head

A month later, I got myself a camera and a couple new bird books (field guides), joined the Oregon Birders and the Yaquina Birders and Naturalists email listservs and went out to find some of them.  I studied the area around our city - looking for birding sites, nature trails and Open Spaces.  If you're familiar with my blog, you know about many of the areas (and birds) that I've found (see list at bottom of blog).

I enjoy learning about new birds, I enjoy the process of finding them - I even enjoy it when I don't find any at all.  But there are some days when I can't seem to "get" the whole identification thing.  Especially the nuances.  Gulls and shorebirds are especially tricky (it is reassuring to know that even experts find them tricky).  The truth is, I hate not knowing, and even more, I hate being wrong.  Reminds me of when I used to take piano lessons - I didn't want to practice, I just wanted to PLAY THE PIANO!

Selasphorus Hummingbird (Shore Acres)

So now, my "life list", which doesn't include the birds I saw as a young person, is over 200 bird species.  I am moving from Birding 101 to Birding 201.  It is exciting, challenging and painful.  I exalt over the discovery of a new bird - the joy of accidental discovery is exhilarating!  The embarrassment of getting an identification wrong, one I "should" know, is agonizingly painful. And discouraging.

So here I am - excited and discouraged.  I know what I had to do to get here.
  • What are the next steps?  
    • What did you do? 
      • What would you do next?  

Share your thoughts with me!  I'd love to know.


  1. I wish I could help but definitely feel like I'm in the same boat! I think getting used to being wrong helps a lot- I get discouraged too but you just have to be psyched that you just learned something new, rather than upset that you messed up. Much easier said than done, I know.

    Also, I think a lot of it just has to do with time. The more birds you see, the more you recognize "the norm" and the easier it is to notice something different. Someone on OBOL was talking about sandpipers and how you just need to stare at lots and lots of Westerns and Leasts and eventually (over months, years, etc.) you will immediately notice a Baird's or Semipalmated or something sticking out like a sore thumb.

    I guess you can always "study" too but I have a lot of trouble sitting still for that sort of thing.

    And lastly, for the record, I think you are doing a mighty fine job on your bird-learning!

    1. Thanks Jen for the thoughtful reply and the words of encouragement! I remember reading the OBOL posts about the sandpipers - good reminder!

  2. The more you go out the better you will be. Try to bird with more experienced birders whenever possible and Oregon is blessed with a wonderful birding community that loves to celebrate life birds with new birders and for the most part will nurture you through any bad calls, because we all, experienced and inexperienced birders make bad calls from time to time.

    A couple of book recommendations would be:

    "Field Guide To Advanced Birding" by Ken Kaufman

    And "Field Guide Companion" by Pete Dunne.

    Pete Dunne's book is unique because there are zero pictures. Just wonderful descriptions of each bird and mention of subtle things to look for to help with ID

    Welcome back to the world of birding and thanks for your continued contribution on OBOL, all dialog is educational.

    1. Thanks Don! I got Kaufman's book recently but haven't spent alot of time with it yet. I'll look for the other one. I know you're right about going with experienced birders -- I'm checking the calendars for local field trips and plan to sign up where I can, and perhaps talk some of the locals into going out with me too!

  3. Don had said a lot of what I would say. Kaufman really helped me. When I got it I had not even thought of the i.d. problems he was talking about. Just in case I wondered if I was an 'advanced' birder, the answer was no. And I agree that the best thing is to go out and look, whenever and wherever you can. The first advice I'd give any birder is to LOOK at the common birds, because you'll see them more than any others, and when you see something that moves differently, sounds different, or does some unfamiliar behavior, you'll be better equipped to say what is new about it.


    1. Thanks Pam. Your comment made me think about when I used to watch the birds in my Keizer yard. I got to where I knew them by the way they entered the yard, how they moved around while there, what they ate and which corners they preferred. Something different immediately caught my eye. I will try to apply this to my out-and-about birding and see how it goes. Thanks!